Ultimate North Carolina’s Mountain Escape Bucket List 2023

When most people think about mountains in North Carolina , they immediately think about Blue Ridge Parkway, Smoky Mountains and Appalachian Trail. At Least that’s what we knew before we called Charlotte, NC our home in 2018. But for past few years through our weekend backpacking adventure and life as digital nomads, we can definitely tell you there is so much more to explore here.

I have spend 3 weeks to put this content together so i can cover everything and you don’t have to surf through multiple sites to plan your trip. All important links for booking activities, maps and other details are in bottom of this page. I hope its helpful. If i missed any of your favorites please let me know in comments below.

From Nation’s Safest Beach to one of the most difficult and technical kayaking rapids, From simple fish port to some of the toughest terrain hiking, NC has something for all kind of adventure seekers and outdoor lovers.

Lets breakdown these awesome place into following regions . These divisions , i feel will be much beneficial for people planning their vacation or road trip in North Carolina

  1. High Country
  2. Smoky Mountains and Cherokee
  3. Ashville & The Foothills

High Country:

Considered to be Winter Sports heaven, high country is NC’s highest elevation station atop Blue Ridge Mountains.

1.Winter, Winery and Wilderness at Banner ELK

Suggested activities:

  • Banner Elk is just 10 minutes away from two larget ski resort : Sugar Mountain Resort and Beech Mountain resort
  • Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster , 3,160 ft alpine roller coaster that includes three circular loops inside a luscious forest. Each accommodating one to two people. Riders can use hand breaks to control speed
  • Banner Elk Winery – award-winning winery & vineyard and part of the High Country Wine Trail. Banner ELk is famous for its award winning winery and vineyard.
  • Banner Elk is also referred to as the “Culinary Hot Spot of the High Country” with cuisines ranging from upscale casual to down home cooking.

Fig. Vineyard and Alpine Coaster at Banner Elk

2. Bike and Ski at Beech Mountain

  • In summer you can visit Emerald Outback , a trail park with almost 8 miles of mountain top trail. Downhill mountain biking with a lift service are also available. Trails range from beginners to advance.
  • In winter, this a snowy wonderland at 5,506 feet is a premier ski and snowboard destination and tourist all over US flock this Beech Mountain Resort.

Other Suggested activities:

  • River rafting , tubing, Kayaking and canoeing Edge of the world boat tours
  • Enjoy free sledding on man made snow at The Sledding Hill. Great for kids while you enjoy beer and pizza in restaurants nearby.

Fig: Beech mountain Ski and Mountain Biking

3. Climb the Rock and Take your Dog at Blowing Rock

When i say climb the rock , it may sound pretty thrilling but don’t worry as it has easy access to lookout spot . However as of august 2022, not good for elderly or those with mobility issue.Great way to enjoy the view of Blue Ridge Mountains, Mt. Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain and Beech Mountain.

Great for hike with your dog , flat top tower trail(Milepost 297) with a beautiful 360 view of Blue ridge mountains at the top. 

TIP: Make sure the weather is good otherwise an entry fee of almost 7$ each will be wasted for nothing.

Other Suggested activities:

  • Appalachian Ski mountain with 12 slopes , 3 freestyle terrain and 6 lifts.
  • Tweetsie Railroad:Star attraction is coal powered steam engine which takes you on a 3 mile trip with some wild west drama. Chairlift , Deer park petting zoo, amusement rides and Deer Park Zoo. seasonal passes from 85$.
  • Experience disorienting gravitational vortex , fun science experiments at Mystery Hill 
  • Doc’s rocks Gem mining great for kids
  • Fishing at Broyhill park without fishing licenses and feeding ducks
  • Hike Bass lake , A classic hike around a High Country lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • High Gravity aerial adventure park
  • Julian Price Memorial park-camp, hike, canoe, picnic, fish.

Fig.: Julian Price Park, Blowing Rock and Tweetsie Railroad at Boone

4. High Adventure in small town, Boone:

Boone is a small town in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Aka, “Heart of High Country“. Boone is popular for outdoor adventure at any time of year.

Suggested Things to do:

  • Take Boone area Wine trail with spectacular scenic loop of the High Country to visit the Grandfather Vineyard & Winery in Foscoe, the Linville Falls Winery in Linville Falls, and Banner Elk Winery in Banner Elk
  • Waterfall hikes trails like Crabtree falls, Cascades, etc. Check link below.
  • Trout fishing in Watuga River
  • Fly Fishing in rushing stream at secret spots of outfitters or discover your own following the locals. Best time is Spring.
  • White water Rafting (Gentle rapid to more extreme rapids are available)
  • Mountain biking at Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park, Boone Greenway
  • Close to Linville Caverns

Fig.: Linville Caverns , Trout Fishing in Boone and Rafting

5. Experience Grand Canyon of The EAST at Linville:

Linville falls, most photographed waterfall in NC , is a spectacular 3 tiered waterfall plunging into Linville Gorge.

Suggested Things to do:

  • Linville caverns are the only cavern open for tour. Just few miles from Linville falls, this limestone caverns forms a natural passageways into mountains.
  • Visit all surrounding mountain towns of Lineville like Blowing Rock,Boones, Banner Elk,etc.
  • The falls trail, just 1.6 miles round easy trip or Gorge Trail , which is 1.4 miles round trip but strenuous. The Plunge Basin Trail, is 1 mile round trip and moderate.
  • Visit “Mile High Swing Bridge” at GrandFather Mountain, most popular NC attraction with America’s highest suspension footbridge at elevation of 5280ft. It has 11 trails of varying difficulties.

Fig.: “Mile High Swing Bridge” at GrandFather Mountain

6. Sunset at Black Mountain

Enjoy 360 panoramic view of Appalachian landscape from Mt Mitchell, the highest peak east of Mississippi River.

Other Suggest Activities:

  • Taste 100% local scratch made Whiskey and Gin using Traditional Scottish Distilling technique at Oak and Grist Distilling Company.
  • Meet goats and learn about goat cheese process at Round Mountain Creamery Farm
  • Enjoy sweet treats and pastries at local shop.
  • Point Lookout Trail is a 3.6 miles paved path winding through woods with scenic view of mountains and Forest.
  • Enjoy golf at foot of Mountains. We have not tried this but it a popular activity.
  • Visit Blue Ridge Parkway found just 9 miles away; Biltmore Asheville, just 15 mins away, scenic lake lure and Chimney Rock park is 30 mins away.

Fig.: Sunset from black mountain

Smoky Mountains and Cherokee

1. Endless adventure at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Did you know it’s the most visited of the USA National Parks? 

North Carolina side , though typically a bit quieter than Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge side in Tennessee, it definitely has more relaxed experience. 

So when you visit North Carolina, don’t miss Smoky Mountains NP.

Other Suggested activities:

  • Stay in cozy cabins hidden in mountains at Bryson City,Lake Junaluska ,Sylva, Dillsboro, Waynesville.
  • Drive early to see smokey haze
  • Climb Clingmans Dome, highest point in national park in TN side but 3rd highest point in NC side. Its a observation tower just 0.5 miles from parking lot.
  • Go autumn leaf peeping. Drive or hike to the higher elevations for amazing fall colors through mid-September to mid-October.
  • Take a scenic train ride on excursions along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers, over the mountains, across valleys and through tunnels.
  • Go Fonatana Lake to enjoy fishing, boating, camping , kayak and swimming
  • Disneyland for lovers of the outdoors, Nantahala Outdoor Center NOC offers rafting, zip lines, treetop adventures, paddle boards, kayaking, hiking, biking, fishing , riverside dining and more.
  • Checkout Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tour to enjoy half-mile of airtime with three sky bridges and six transfer bridges, 13 zip line sections and 20 scenic and unspoiled acres of flying area. Combine this with a whitewater rafting trip down the river.
  • See a massive collection includes more than 300 of America’s rarest and most historic classic motorcycles and automobiles in Maggie Valley, one of best transportation museums in the country.
  • Cades Cove Loop Road (drive and cycle).
  • Don’t miss top hikes includingThe Alum Cave Trail (most-hiked in the GSM) , Charlies Bunion (Appalachian Trail),Chimney Tops(Uphill with great elevation), Clingmans Dome Trail, Rough Fork Trail along the cascading stream in Cataloochee Valley Hiking (home to elks), Deep creek 3 waterfall hike.
  • Don’t miss top scenic drives including Newfound Gap Road ,Balsam Mountain Heintooga Ridge Road,Cataloochee Valley & Elk, Clingmans Dome Road, Road to Nowhere
  • Do a guided horseback ride. 
  • Sunset at Morton Overlook. 
  • Experience Indian village and casinos at Cherokee

Fig. : Mountain Cabins at Smokies,Clingman dome, Scenic Drive, Nantahala River

2. Try Something New at Cherokee, NC

Cherokee is also the southern gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Try unique Oconaluftee Indian Village experience which is living history museum that portrays a 1760s Cherokee village. Take a guided tour and interact with villagers as they hull canoes, make pottery and masks, weave baskets and beadwork, and participate in their daily activities including their Dance.

 Other Suggested activities:

  • Relax at The Mandara Spa at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort , a 15,000-square-foot oasis with promising relaxation and pampering. 
  • Pan for gold and gems at Smokey Mountain Gold & Ruby Mine.
  • Explore Great Smoky Mountains NP – the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is just 10 minutes drive from Cherokee.
  • Mingo Falls – 120 ft high waterfall, most popular activity here
  • Enjoy some of the best trout fishing in America on the thirty miles of pristine streams
  • Go whitewater rafting
  • Do a guided horseback ride on the Cherokee Reservation
  • Tube the Oconaluftee River
  • Bryson City

Fig. : Casino at Cherokee and Indian Village

3. Horse and Bike in Bryson City, NC

Bryson City is a laid-back mountain town in Western NC and gateway a to Smoky Mountains NP, surrounded by streams, waterfalls, and lakes, this offering a wide range of outdoor activities from biking, hiking, tubing, rafting, fishing, camping to horse riding.

Tsali Horse and Bike Trail  is located on a hilly peninsula reaching into beautiful Fontana Lake, across the lake from the Great Smoky Mountains. Bryson City, home to bike shops with rentals and supplies, is nearest town.

Other Suggested activities:

  • Find a variety of cabins surrounding the vistas of Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee, Nantahala River and Fontana Lake. 
  • Find a parking spot in Deep creek area and hike to all three waterfalls in just over 2 miles round trip or rent a tube to float under sky.
  • Explore downtown and soak up small town vibes, eat local food, coffee.
  • White Water Rafting, tubing in the Nantahala River
  • Drive the Franklin/Highlands waterfall loop. 
  • Ziplining – get bird eye view of nature serenity at its best
  • Trout or Fly fishing – Swain County hosts one of the most diverse fishing habitats in the world, including native brook trout and small mouth bass.
  • Explore near by Great Smoky Mountains NP, of course .
In summer Tsail Trail can get crowded. To avoid the crowds, try to visit during the week. Tsali's Left and Right Loop trails can be combined to make a great, but difficult, 18-mile ride.

Fig. : Biking and Horse Riding in Bryson

Asheville and The Foothills

1. Enjoy Views and Brews at Asheville

Asheville is our go to place whenever we have any friends or family visiting us. Famous activities include enjoying the views of mountains and city skyline from bars and trying its unique draft Breweries. It’s considered to be one of the Best Craft beers cities in US. Our favorite include Wicked Weed(despite the big line to get in) and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Other Suggested activities:

Nothing can beat a casual stroll around city on foot. You can just wander around or take a Urban Trail with almost 30 stops, along interactive map with audio, avalibale free on exploreasheville.com.

Take Brewery Tours , Tryon foothill Winery Tour

Try award wining chocolates at French Broad Chocolate lounge and several others

Try Indian food at Chaipani, Spanish food at Curate, Hamburgers at Farm Burgers, Dimsums at Red Ginger, Mediterranean at Jerusalem Garden Cafe.

Rent AirBnb or mountain top cabins

Visit Biltmore Estate

Beside these there are several hiking trails, waterfalls, popular tourist attractions like Chimney Rock, Blue ridge Parkway, Appalachian trail nearby.

Fig.: Dimsum at Red Ginger, Sierra nevada brewery, Chocolate Fetish Store and Downtown Asheville

2. Experience Exquisite Biltmore Estate:

This largest privately owned house in US is just 15 minutes away from Asheville . Biltmore is so popular that it deserves a separate section even though its in Asheville.

Suggested Things to do:

  • Tour Biltmore Mansion and Garden
  • Tickets are expensive but it will give you access to not only House, Garden but also its unique town , Antler Hill Village and Winery . This town is famous for dinning , wine-ing, Farmland with friendly animals.
  • Christmas dinner inside this mansion is so popular that its booked several months in advanced. Decoration of mansion and village is epic during holiday season.
This activity is not for everyone and some people might find it boring .Its expensive as well. So make sure to check review and do your research before going.

Fig. : Biltmore Estate

3. Don’t Miss America’s Favorite Scenic Drive at Blue Ridge Parkway

Starting at south end of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and winding along crest of Blue Ridge Mountains all the way to Great Smokies Mountain National Park (NP), each location is identified by its MilePost (MP). This place is heavenly during fall with golden , red , yellow leaves and colourful with wild flowers and greenery in spring.

Key MilePost for The Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina to the Smokies

Milepost 304: Exciting curves and dense walls of rhododendrons along Linn Cove Viaduct road.

Milepost 305.1 :the famous Mile-High Swinging Bridge in Grandfather Mountain (828/733-4337 or 800/468-7325, daily, $20 adults), the highest peak in Blue Ridge.

Milepost 316.3: Lineville Falls with short trails lead to scenic overlooks

Milepost 355.4 :  Mount Mitchell State Park include a mountaintop observation tower

Milepost 364.6 : AKA Appalachian Shangri-La, blooms with rhododendrons in late spring and the lush greenery of Craggy Gardens.

Milepost 469.1 : Entrance to Smoky Mountains National Park. Other mileposts in link at bottom of page

If driving around in car is not your thing try following:

Other suggested Activities:

  • Motorcycling sweeping curves and awe-inspiring vistas in Land of waterfalls loop ride,Blue Ridge Parkway and Lake James Loop, and many more. Links below.
  • RVING. Here is a list of RV friendly spots along Blue ridge parkway below.
  • Bicycling
  • Must try hiking trails along Blue Ridge parkway in North Carolina include Mountain to sea trail, Cabtree Falls, Green Knob Trail,Devil’s Courthouse,Boone Fork Trail
  • Camping at Doughton park (MP 238.5 – 241), Julian price Memorial Park (MP 296.7), Linville Falls (MP 316.3 – 317.8), Crabtree Falls (MP 339.5 to 340.2), Mount Pisgah (MP 408.6)
Fig. : Linn Cove Viaduct road
Fig. : Entrance to Smoky Mountains National Park

4. Play , Relax and Lodge at Lake Lure:

Lake lure is all about luscious greens and sheer granite cliffs surrounding a beautiful lake setting. Its our go to place for relaxing weekend in mountains.

Soak in the sun in lake Lure Beach and then cool off at water park. Rent a cabin or airbnb or stay in exquisite Lake Lure Lodge with tree top dinning.

Other Suggested Activities:

  • Paddle board or kayak
  • Stroll across flowering bridge boardwalk. We never heard about this place but apparently its one of the famous activities in lake lure.
  • Wine Tasting Tours and Great food at Burntshirt Vineyards and Bistro.
  • Lake Tours with view of luxurious lakeside homes or sunsets.

Fig. : Lake Lure

5. Views for everyone at Chimney Rock State Park with man made Elevator

This is the go to place whenever we have our senior family members who can’t like hiking a lot but love to see the view. Located on a summit above village of Chimey Rock inside Chimey Rock Statte Park, its a 315 foot high large granite rock cropping out of lusiocus green mountains.

Fig. : Chimney Rock

6. Melt your stress at Hot Springs

Soak in a naturally heated underground water running along a volcanic fault line. We booked a 2 hour private tub by French board river for about 55$/hr for couple. They had jetted hot tubs, positioned outside the tranquil banks of the French Broad River. Located in Appalachian Trail , this springs are popular stop for through- hikers, specially in April and May. This mineral rich water is believed to increase circulation and oxygen flow in your body. .

Other Suggested Activities:

  • But before soaking we suggest hiking Lover’s Leap for fantastic mountain views.
  • Book a spa treatment after the soak for complete relaxation. You deserve it as you have been working hard. Links below.

Fig. : Hot Tubs with natural minerals at Hot Spring

7. Enjoy spring Bloom at Pisgah National Forest

Our favorite activity here is hiking , Roan Mountain Trail, on famous Appalachian Trail, to enjoy beautiful and unique rhododendron and colour wild flower. Other popular one are Craggy Garden , Pink Bed trail and Max Patch for watching spring blooms.

This forest has 3 main areas:

Mount Pisgah

Looking Glass Fall , most photographed waterfall in south

Looking glass Rock, hike leading to top for awesome 360 degree view . Its 6.5 miles round trip and includes climbing 1700 feet in elevation.

Other Suggested Activities:

Have fun in sun in its various waterfall including Sliding Rock, Skinny Dip falls, Cove creek Falls

Horse riding. Great for families.

Fig. : Roan Mountain in Spring

Well if you made it this far, i assure you , you are gonna plan an awesome mountain bucketlist for you and your travelling partner. Also you probably burned some calories by reading this long article. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know in comments below if you plan to visit or have visited any of this place.

Don’t forget to like and subscribe to get notified for my upcoming post. It helps me a lot. I will be doing a another Mountain series in Nepal in next post.

Important Links:

High Country

Banner ELK High Country Wine Trail 

Beech Mounatin  bike Trail map and chairlift info

Bowling Rock high gravity aerial adventures

Boone Wine Trails

Boone Waterfall Trails

Black Mountain Distillery for Whiskey and Gin

Black Mountain Trails Collection

Smoky Mountains and Cherokee

Check best time for fall colors

Great smokies Mountain trail, park campground maps

Oconaluftee Indian Village Tours and Tickets

Great smokies mountain vacation in NC

Visit Cherokee official page

Tsail Biking and Horse Riding

Asheville and Foothills

Ashville Best Breweries

Total Milepost List of BlueRidge Parkway

MotorCycling in Blue Ridge Parkway

RV Friendly spots

Hot spring Hot tubs and spa

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Jyothi says:

    Great post! It brings back fond memories of our visit to Grandfather Mountain and Mile High Swing Bridge.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. faeriestarvbusiness says:

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  3. Fairy Queen says:

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